Category Archives: Thanks

King of the Road

I did not excel in high school math.

I enjoyed Geometry, but I did poorly in Algebra II, so poorly that I was in Algebra II-B my senior year instead of Trigonometry.

As I approached graduation, I had pretty much given up on my math class, and I spent sixth period twiddling a quarter-inch drill bit in my fingers, very very slowly drilling a hole through my desk. It was months before the hole went all the way through the desk. I tore a small piece of paper out of my assignment notebook and sketched a grayscale Union Jack. I licked the homemade flag and stuck it to my pencil, and planted it in the hole. Then I saluted. Ms. Tangney laughed.

A friend of mine, Rob, sat in the back of the class. He was even more checked out than I was, having given up on academics in general. He taught me the lyrics to “King of the Road” and “The Gambler,” and we staged mock kung fu battles in the back of the classroom before class started, complete with random mouth movements meant to suggest bad English overdubs.

One day, Rob decided to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” drowning out Ms. Tangney’s attempts at instruction. I joined in with gusto. She promptly threw me out of the classroom and sent me to see the assistant principal. Mr. Doherty drew the short straw and ushered me into his tiny office, barely big enough for his desk.

“What is it this time, mister?”

I admitted that I had been singing during class.

“What do you think would be an appropriate consequence?”

I said that I thought it was unfair that Ms. Tangney had sent me for disciplinary action and not Rob, as he was singing the melody and I was only singing harmony.

Mr. Doherty snorted and suppressed a laugh, but he quickly recovered his stern demeanor.

“Why do you suppose Ms. Tangney sent you to see me, but not Rob?”

I said I didn’t know.

“Let me ask you this. Between you and Rob, which of you is more likely to get your act together and make something useful out of your life? You don’t have to answer that, just think about it.”

My eyes opened wide as I tried to wrap my head around what I thought he was saying. I knew I would graduate with or without a decent math grade, but Rob was a burnout. Had he given up on himself? Had the school given up on him?

“While you think about that, think about this. I don’t give a damn if you learn algebra or not. But you will NOT disrupt the class and prevent someone else from learning. Is that clear?”

Yes, sir.

“Am I going to have any more crap out of you?”

No, sir.

Thank you, sir.

All the time in the world

Sarah and I had only been dating for four months when she introduced me to her niece, Catherine. Catherine was three years old, and cute as a bug. She kept calling me Tim, and why not? She had known Tim her whole life. Sarah was embarrassed: Tim was Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. I tried to convince her that it didn’t bother me.

The night before Sarah and I got married, we had our rehearsal dinner on the waterfront, at a seafood restaurant called Finz. We had the second-story function room, and as our families laughed and told stories, Sarah pulled her dad away from the party, and brought him over to the window to show him the view. They looked down at the dock and the reflections on the dark water, and she thought, Right there is where I almost told Dad that Tim and I were engaged, years ago.

The first time Sarah heard the Rockapella song People Change, we were decorating the Christmas tree. She paused with a glass ball in her hand, listening to the lyrics, and quietly observed, “This is a really sad song.” It was obvious she was reminded of a bad breakup. It was hard for her to talk about, and I didn’t want to press her on the subject, but I tried to let her know that it was OK that she had been in love before. I was never jealous of her. I was grateful. All of our relationships change us; we learn so much from each other. I loved Sarah, and she would not have been who she was without her family, her friends, and her exes. I loved them all, because they were part of her.

The last time I saw Rockapella perform live was at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston. I brought Nate, who had been listening to a cappella music, and Rockapella in particular, since before he was born. And I brought Sandy. And of course Rockapella sang People Change.

I had to laugh through my tears: isn’t it funny how things change. Now I was the one with a Troubled Past. I squeezed Sandy’s hand, and hoped she would understand.

People change. Life changes. Sometimes people leave you.

But love never dies.

Happy anniversary, Sarah.

I’m walkin’

Sarah was a patient at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. They are, quite simply, the best. I am very grateful that we had that resource available to us.

But chemotherapy is damned expensive, let me tell you. Sarah’s six months of surgeries and treatment cost almost a million dollars. We had excellent health insurance. Many others are less fortunate.

On Sunday, September 21, Nathaniel and I will walk in the 2008 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. The Jimmy Fund helps pay for cancer research and care at Dana-Farber.

We are walking to raise money. We are walking to honor Sarah and remember her life. Most of all, we are walking because we believe we can make a difference. If everyone who reads this donates just $10, I will exceed my goal of $1,500.

We walked last year and it was a wonderful experience. I hope to walk again next year.

And I hope to live to see the day when we don’t have to walk any more.

Just the two of us

Nate’s teachers write a daily note about the various activities they have in class. One day, under “Math & Science,” it said, “Making a family chart and comparing how many family members live in our house.”

I looked on the wall. Sure enough, there it was. Seven of Nate’s classmates have four people in their household. Three of Nate’s classmates have three people in their household. And Nate himself is the only one with just two people in his household.

Later that month, the class made a Family Tree on one of the walls. Each child was given a round leaf, and they drew a picture of each of their family members. I found Nate’s leaf; there we were. I was green and he was blue.

But I missed an important detail.

You remember my good friends Beth and Paul? Parents of Nate’s friend Jennifer… and the lovely Caroline Sarah, named after my Sarah? The ones who take Nate overnight once a week, so I can visit the pshrink and recapture a few of my marbles? Yes.

Beth quietly pointed out to me that Jennifer’s leaf had five people on it, not four. She told me that when she asked Jennifer who they were, she said, “That’s you, and daddy, Caroline, me, and Nate.”

Nate sees it just as clearly, in his own way. When the class started working on their Mother’s Day books, he told me that he wanted to give his book to Jennifer’s mom. He said it in the same four-year-old, matter-of-fact tone that I imagine Jennifer used: what could be more obvious?

Indeed. Well done, my son.

There’s no answer

Today is not exactly a special day.

We still celebrate Sarah’s birthday, and I make time to grieve on our wedding anniversary, but those are happy memories. I don’t really want to commemorate the day Sarah died, two years ago today. It’s not as if I’ll ever forget it. But I’d rather remember her the way she was, full of life and always smiling.

I’ve written before, briefly, about my friend Mike. Mike has lost several very close friends to cancer, and he has basically dedicated his life to raising money for the Jimmy Fund. He runs an annual golf tournament fundraiser called Par Fore The Cure. I don’t golf, but I sure as hell eat cheeseburgers, and baked beans, and the clambake that comes with the golf tournament is something I look forward to all year. Sarah loved the clambake too. She was crazy about lobster, and usually ate considerably more than was sensible, or even sane.

In 2006, Mike added another fundraising event: the Golf Ball, a black tie dinner in March. Sarah died a week before the event, and Mike dedicated the evening to her memory. I attended the Golf Ball in 2007, and I’ll be there this year as well.

You may also recall that Jess, Nate, Kirsten and I participated in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk last year. I fully intend to walk again this year. Thanks to all who sponsored us.

Cancer is many things. It’s senseless, it’s tragic. But right now, today, I feel as if it’s just… it’s so unnecessary. If you love lobster, or like to walk, or enjoy dressing up and eating filet mignon… you can make a difference.

Join us, won’t you?

Sing it if you understand.

Hey! It’s my 50th post. To mark the occasion, I thought we’d have a little contest.

You may have noticed that some of my post titles are song lyrics, or song titles. In fact, almost all of my post titles are song lyrics or song titles. Some of them are even from songs that have something to do with the subject of the post.

I’m curious to see if y’all can identify them.

Most of them should be easy, but there are a couple pretty obscure references in there. First person to identify them all, by title and artist, wins a Ghost Guides T-shirt. These are left over from when Sarah was running her own company, giving walking tours of the North End and telling ghost stories. We only have XL and XXL (I believe) but they’re pretty good-looking shirts. I’ll see if I can get a picture of one up here at some point.

The following early posts are not musical references: “Digesting,” “Out of the mouths of babes,” and “Reading.” If it’s a song that’s been covered, I won’t be picky about the artist. Google is definitely allowed, although I think it might be more fun to try it without and see how far you get. If you get stuck or wish to collaborate, feel free to use the comments area to get together. I have plenty of T-shirts, so team prizes will not be a problem.

Send your guesses to contest at my domain name,

Have fun, and thanks for reading.

And that laugh that wrinkles your nose

Tomorrow would have been our five-year wedding anniversary.

We held our reception at the Peabody Essex Museum. It was beautiful, except Sarah was slightly horrified by this mummified penguin in one of the display cases. When we got the disposable cameras developed, we discovered that nearly everyone had posed with the damn penguin.

Thanks again to Tish and Francis, and to everyone who helped to make our night special. It was the most amazing party I’ve ever been to.

The happy couple

Come Sail Away

Sarah’s parents have an eleven-meter sailboat, Deliverance. (Sarah’s dad is an obstetrician.) Sarah grew up on the water, and she absolutely loved sailing. It was central to her life. I learned to love it too, except for the fact that I always get sick. I think it’s the one thing she would have changed about me.

Sarah was stuck with me, but Nate was her second chance. Watching him discover the boat was one of her greatest joys. She was determined that he would be a water baby, just as she had been.

So when Tish and Francis invited us to go for a day sail in July, it was bittersweet. This would be my first time on board without Sarah. I knew it would be sad for me, but I also knew that Nate would love it. More, I knew that sailing and exploring the islands would be one of the best ways for him to learn who Sarah really was. So, for the record, even though I always get sick, I am determined to accept every invitation to go sailing from now on. I just hope next summer is less rainy.

We brought Jennifer’s family along. Jennifer and her parents, Beth and Paul, are very good friends of ours. Nate sleeps at their house at least once a week so I can have some down time, and I am quite unable to express how grateful I am to have them in my life.

Paul documented our lovely day sail by taking approximately two hojillion pictures. Unfortunately, a thick fog came in before we made it all the way to Cuttyhunk, so we had to turn around and head back. And Nate was too excited to nap on the boat; by the end of the day, he was completely fried. So I tied him to a chair, and we enjoyed dinner at the yacht club.

It was a good day.

Waiting to sail your worries away

After Sarah passed away, the outpouring of support was tremendous. I mean, it was truly overwhelming. People brought us food, cleaned the house, did our laundry, went shopping, you name it. And a bunch of folks from work decided to chip in and buy this.

Boat bed

Sarah always loved this bedroom set, but we could never afford it. It came from PBK and cost a bloody fortune. Needless to say, Nate is simply over the moon with delight. Imagine a three-year-old who wants to go to bed every night.

Nate on board

To Sara S, for organizing this amazing gift, and to all of you who have given, and continue to give, so much: thank you.